Private Adolphe Lacroix’s letter home in 1915

Saturday, April 17, 1915

In trenches, St. Julien

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Everything quiet except for considerable amount of sniping.  Enemy apparently working in ruined farm-house in No-Man’s Land in front of No. 4 Coy. Reported to Bde H.Q. and Artillery shelled house.  No. 4 Coy. extended and took over about 50 yards more frontage from French west of Ypres-Poelcappelle Road”. [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: “That the men of the 14th Battalion experienced a shock when daylight revealed the condition of their new trenches is stated in many diaries and letters covering the time. A parapet of sand bags stretched along the Battalion front, but this was flimsily constructed, was not bullet proof, and was broken by one gap of approximately 100 yards wide. Some value attached to the parapet as a screen from view, but danger signs gave warning that the Germans sniped through the protection repeatedly. No parados* had been built on the trench; few traverses existed, and no shell proof dugouts at all. Water, and bodies buried but a few inches beneath the surface, had rendered the construction of underground shelters impossible. Many bodies had been buried in the parapet of the trenches; scores lay unburied between the lines; large rats wandered everywhere; and sanitary arrangements were, from a Canadian point of view, inadequate. Consequently, the line was dangerous and possessed of the most sickening smell imaginable.”[2]

* Note: “The parados formed the side of the trench furthest away from the enemy line; that is, the back of the trench. In order to protect the heads and shoulders of men manning the fire-step (either on sentry or during pre-dawn and dusk Stand-To) both the parapet at the front of the trench and the parados at the rear were lined with several feet of sandbags; in the latter case this was to protect men from fire from the rear. While both the parapet and parados, protected as they were by their layers of sandbags, were effectively immune to the effects of rifle fire, neither afforded real protection to artillery shell fire, although they did serve to afford some cover from the back-blast of high explosives detonating behind the line.”[3]

17 April 15“Private Adolphe Lacroix,* an Ottawa boy with the 14th infantry battalion, 1st Canadian contingent, has written to his brother Armand Lacroix, of Ottawa, as follows:

‘Dear Brother:
I arrived in France about a month ago, after suffering from a terrible storm at sea. We remained four days between life and death and have lost two men, four horses and two boats. At last, we arrived at St. Nazaire safely, where we remained for two days and then took the train for the firing line.

It took us fifty hours to reach Fletre, a village situated in Flanders. All along our way we were acclaimed and served to cider and coffee. We were transported by freight cars, sleeping on straw and packed like sardines, forty men to a car. After landing at Fletre, we had to walk fifteen miles with our knapsacks, rifle and equipment and many fell by the wayside from exhaustion.

We remained four days at Fletre, sleeping in stables, attics and shops or any other places we could find available; then we went to Armentieres, which is twelve miles from Fletre. We remained at that place eight days in order to rest before entering the trenches.

In every village we passed, the Huns had been through and we could see the damage they did, fire, collapsed roofs, pierced walls, everywhere it is devastation.

ARMENTIERES SHELLED
I was sleeping with a comrade on the top floor of a house in Armentieres, when the German shells started to explode over the town. The mistress of the house notified us of the danger of staying up there so we went down.

At last, we left for the trenches. Everything is done in the dark, the troops relieve each other at night, provisions are carried and all work is done at night.

The trenches are made this way …. and in horse shoe shape. They are dug in such a way as to throw the earth in front of the trench so as to protect us from shells etc. We sleep in holes at the back of our trenches, we can hardly sleep on account of the cold and mud; there is a sentry every fifteen or twenty feet and we each take the post in turn.

The second night I spent in the trenches, our Major passed in the ranks and asked for five men of good will to go and attack a German outpost and I happened to be one of the five.

We left at eight o’clock one nice moonlight evening, we had to cover a distance of 200 yards before reaching the post; we were six in all, five Canadians and our guide, an English man, with rifle and bayonet.

The front of our trenches is fenced with barbed wire and one must be careful not to fall; we crossed the fence, however, and crawled our way up to about fifteen yards from the German advance post.

THE BALLS OF FIRE
Suddenly they commenced throwing balls of fire toward us in order to light up the ground. We then dropped flat on the ground and they immediately opened fire with their machine guns.

We remained in that position for ten or fifteen minutes and then one of us, a ‘Belgian’ who understood German heard them say, ‘Let them approach,’ they wanted to surround us but we retreated in time. If the night had been darker, I believe we would have succeeded in capturing them.

It took us two hours to cover 400 yards. The post was held by the Germans and should we have succeeded in our exploit, we would have been given a medal, however, we returned to our Major with valuable information.
The next day, we received congratulations from our colonel before the company.

Now, dear brother, it is difficult to write here, all our letters are censored, this letter may not reach you. I have asked a woman from the village to mail it for me. We are not allowed to give any information as to where we come from, where we are or where we go.” [5]

* Private Adolphe Lacroix, No 26456: Private Lacroix was a born in Montreal, February 10, 1879. He worked as a paper cutter, and served for a year with the 74th Regiment (New Brunswick Rangers). He enlisted for overseas service at the outbreak of War with 14th Battalion where he served for 4 ½ years, retiring with the rank of Sergeant. He died at Montreal, December 10th, 1948. During the Second World War, his brother Armand Lacroix had eight sons serving with the Canadian Armed forces.

[1]    War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, April 17, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089715.jpg
[2]   R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette, Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pg. 36.
[3]   Michael Duffy  http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/parados.htm    
[4]   “Private Lacrox Writes From Front,”The Ottawa Evening Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, April 17, 1915, pg. 2, col. 1.
[5]   Ibid

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